Tau review - deceptive sci-fi with a surprising existential headache
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Verdict: Tau (2018) is a surprising Netflix original of two halves – or rather an out-of-place-20%, if that’s a thing, but it’s a rewardingly intelligent film if you can get through the first 20 minutes without eye-rolling too hard. The film establishes itself in such a strange way. Maybe it’s an intentional misdirect, as the majority of trailer footage is from the opening, but that would still make it intentionally derivative. It starts off as Ex Machina meets Saw. The opening nightclub and city scenes look like budget ‘San Junipero’, though the camera following our protagonist Julia home is quite creepy. Plus, in the baddy’s mansion (who naturally listens to classical piano), you get the obligatory minor jump-scare at something which shouldn’t actually be scary, namely, on seeing the other prisoners. The only dumb decisions to further the plot happen in this first 20 minutes as the prisoners plan their escape – why does the guy put his hand on the biometric scanner? For the film, it’s just to set off the alarm. But then… why didn’t the gas explosion set off the alarm? It’s dumb, and it’s all just set-up for the AI to brutally murder all the prisoners except Julia, and the AI voice is then introduced as a character who initially appears to be a nice impression of HAL 9000 et al, blithely unaware of the havoc he just wreaked on the dead captives. This sounds like spoilers, but don’t worry, it’s literally the inexplicable first twenty minutes. You see, Julia is actually there because Alex is an AI developer facing pressures from his board, and the only way to develop the right algorithms is to study human brains when they’re problem solving under stress. It’s… perhaps contrived or convoluted, but that's a good metaphor for this surprisingly deep analysis of labour politics. Put the premise this way: Alex literally benefits from Julia’s resistance because it helps the AI learn; he’s co-opting working-class oppression like Pepsi did with that advert (oh shit, the advert worked... I just talked about Pepsi). Julia might be special for having a larger sciencewordbrainpart than average (14% larger!), but her attempts to bargain her compliance for concessions from her captor (cough, to unionise, cough) are ultimately a failure - after all, she’s replaceable as a problem-solver, not to mention Alex controls whether she lives or dies.
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